Book Review: The Columbo Companion 1968-1978 by the Columbophile

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I have the entire Columbo series for TV and the two Mystery Movie Collection sets 1989-1990 and 1991-2003. To my dismay, the collector’s set did not have a booklet to give the viewer more information about the story, who guest starred, etc. So, imagine my delight when the blogger ‘the Columbophile’ published this companion.

There is a table of contents noting the TV series 1-7 and at the end we get the blogger’s personal ranking of the best and the worst of the series, nd there’s even a glossary of Britishisms.

Every episode description follows the same format: brilliant illustrations by Theo Solorio, a brief intro, list of main characters, how the killing happened, the gotcha moment, followed by an episode analysis, best moments of that episode, and a fun fact. Each chapter ends with a summary of the season.

At the end of the book, the blogger gives his personal ranking of all 45 TV episodes, lists his pick for the best killer, best and worst episode, the best dressed villain, most sympathetic villain, etc. plus facts about the series.

I learned about the struggle between actor Peter Falk and the studio, that the seventies series cover double murders in only sixteen episodes, and that in all the seventies episodes there were only nine female killers.

But, how to review a book that is a comprehensive review of years of television episodes? Well, I guess by starting my own ranking. If you use Twitter, you can follow the Columbophile here and tweet him your rankings.

Here is my ranking on the 70s TV Series:

The best entertaining episodes:

Suitable for Framing

Double Shock

Any Old Port in a Storm

Now You See Him

The best gotcha moment

Suitable for Framing

A Friend in Deed

The most brilliantly plotted crime

Double Exposure

The most sympathetic villain

Forgotten Lady

Try and Catch Me

Favorite episodes to watch regardless of plot holes (in no particular order)

The Conspirators: love the limericks and how Devlin rattles off possibilities for the meaning of the code ‘LAP 213’ in the hotel room

Murder under Glass: love the smugness of Louis Jourdan but dislike Columbo’s frankly rude behavior during Vittorio’s funeral and cruel treatment of Mario

Try and Catch Me: love Ruth Gordon’s wit, the twinkle in her eyes, and I do understand her pain

Forgotten Lady: painful reveal at the end that explains all the gaps in the story

Now You See Him: love the magic especially Columbo on and backstage

A Friend in Deed: how to catch your boss!

Any Old Port in a Storm: clumsy crime but the reveal in the end makes up for it although I cannot get over the unnatural way in which they hold wine glasses in that episode

Candidate for Crime: Columbo napping under a newspaper!

Double Exposure: Robert Culp is ice-cold creepy but I love his subliminal cut

A Stitch in Crime: Commander Spock in a different role and Columbo observing surgery

Double Shock: love all the scenes with Mrs. Peck

Suitable for Framing: killer with the creepiest smile, love Edna, and the gotcha moment is one of my favorites

Prescription Murder: the first Columbo episode ever, love to see how he keeps badgering Joan Hudson until she sees what kind of Doctor Ray Flemming really is

If you have the DVDs without episode description guide, this is a great companion. But even if you have a booklet, this book gives you so much information from issues with filming, changes in scripts, relationships between actors, little facts and yes, it reveals all the plot holes.

If you have a favorite Columbo episode, let me know!

Palette by Pak

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I have been looking at Palette by Pak for a while now and finally took the plunge and ordered one. Small containers or travel sizes are not just for travelling. I use them everywhere.

I have them in the car, my gym bag, my handbag, in my office drawer, kitchen drawer, etc. What’s in it? Usually Benadryl, hand crème, or cuticle balm. In summer, sunscreen. It has saved me (or another person) on several occasions to have small amounts with me so I always save travel sizes and plunder hotels if theirs close better than mine.

When you are not travelling, the size and shape of the container isn’t much of an issue but when you are going through security and complying with TSA regulations, it is. There’s only so much that you can stuff in a quart ziplock bag!

Since I just got the palete, I only filled it with things that are standard in my handbag. I need to build up the confidence that it will not leak and that the quantity I can take along lasts me about a week. Sundays are my ‘empty the bag and check for receipts, etc.’ days anyway so we just add refilling the palette.

Standard in my bag are Benadryl, hand crème, and cuticle balm. I have placed 5 Benadryls in tub #1, hand crème in #2, and emptied an almost empty Sally Hansen in #3. I was surprised how much still came out of that last one.

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Numbers 4 and 5 are empty at the time of writing.

Some asked online about labelling the tubs. I intend to place the original product above the tub, take a picture, and exchange that picture on my cellphone as needed.

I read in some reviews that people were upset how fast the white plastic holder broke and/or that the cubs leak. The white plastic holder seems sturdy but only time will tell. If it breaks, I will update this post. As for leaking, I placed the holder with the ‘Palette’ name on the left on a flat surface. Then closed the tubs and lined up the numbers. If it leaks, I will update this post!

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To help myself build up the confidence that this palette will not leak and make a mess of my new hand bag, I am going to use the wrapping for a while. The palette comes in a carton tube. The yellow part fits snug over the palette and fits easily into the side pocket of my hand bag.

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I have no travel plans for the next few weeks where I will meet the TSA. But to cover it all, I tried fitting the palette into a quart ziplock bag and the result is here below.

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Once I have build up the trust that it will not leak, I intend to experiment with quantities to see how long the palette can carry me over when travelling. I am hoping for ten days.

If you have one, let me know your thoughts.

Book Review: Maus by Art Spiegelman

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I read on PBS that Art Spiegelman will receive an honorary National Book Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on November 16. Spiegelman is of the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Maus” in 1992.

Maus is now a banned book in select schools. From the papers: “A Tennessee school board has voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth grade language arts curriculum due to concerns about profanity and an image of female nudity in its depiction of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.”

For international readers, in eight grade children are roughly 13 to 14 years old. For more information about the placement of eight grade in school systems and children’s ages, click here.

I am only going to address the two reasons given above for banning this brilliant work.

Does Spiegelman curse in the book? Yes, but very few times. I have seen worse and hear worse out the mouths of middle school aged children. Not just cursing each other but also how they refer to family members.

Cursing does not stand out in this book. What does are the raw emotions in which the author sketches the Holocaust. You cannot make the Holocaust less horrific, less graphic, or bone-chilling. Sugar-coating the Holocaust does not do justice to the many Jewish people who were brutally murdered.

Now let’s cover the female nudity. Spiegelman’s father finds his wife Anya nude in the bathtub. She had killed herself. In only two images in the entire book, do we see Anya dead. In one image, we see the top of her head, her breasts, and an upper arm dangling over the tub. In the other, we see part of her stomach, knees, and right toes sticking out from the bath water. Neither drawings show her private parts. There is far more more nudity in games, on TV, and in the movies. Here, see for yourself.

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As for the violence, as every quality author does, Spiegelman does not focus on violent details. His focus is on the emotions of the people who witness it and try to escape it. Do we see hangings, prisoners, and children being killed? Yes, because that’s what the Nazis did.

People who claim the book is all violence clearly have not spent any time looking at the drawings. We see dancing, tenderness, and very familiar family scenes. Just look at page 75. The adults at the table discuss coupons and the black market while one of the children at the table gets into trouble.

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Reading about the Holocaust is always a gut-wrenching journey. Many in our own family never came back from Auschwitz. But not reading about the Holocaust is not a choice.

Clearly, this isn’t a book for elementary school children. However, at middle school they cover many wars, have seen violence on TV or in games, and are used to a curse word or two.

Instead of banning Maus, a simple label on the book cover in the school library would have been sufficient to alert younger readers of the graphic content.

Highly recommended reading!

Book review: The Seeker Series by S. G. MacLean

Seeker series by S.G. MacLean/Photography AdS
Seeker series by S.G. MacLean/Photography AdS

The five books in the Seeker Series by S. G. MacLean carry you into a politically challenging period.

We meet Damian Seeker in 1654 when Oliver Cromwell is Lord Protector with almost unlimited powers.

There is general unrest everywhere. People fight for free speech and printers work overtime to make news pamphlets.

To stay ahead of riots, plots to restore the Royal Family to the throne, and attempts to kill the Lord Protector, Cromwell’s government has a Secret Service led by John Thurloe. One of his Intelligence Officers is Captain Damian Seeker.

In book #1, Elias Ellingworth, a lawyer and journalist, is arrest for first degree murder. Even though lawyers and journalists were despised and a threat to Cromwell, Seeker has doubts about the man’s guilt and goes to talk to him in his cell in the Tower of London. How easy it would have been for him to let Elias rot there. Nobody would question it. The case would be closed, and everyone would move on. But the facts did not add up and instead of doing what is easy, Seeker did what is difficult. He talked to someone he did not agree with on any subject.

Throughout the five books, Elias and Seeker continue to have a strained relationship. They differ in everything but somehow, mutual respect and even trust forms. There is of course more. Maria, Elias’ sister, manages to set into motion the slow awakening of Seeker’s frozen emotions.

He had his reasons to close his heart. He was publicly abandoned by a wife who took his daughter Manon away from him. Becoming a soldier just sealed the ironclad lock on his emotions.

Seeker is not made into a tall handsome guy who makes women swoon at first sight. MacLean also does not make excuses for his behavior. He is as flawed in the last book as he was in the first. But despite the flaws and the hard life he leads, bit by bit you warm up to Seeker because despite the rough appearance and ice-cold behavior, you start to see his humanity. Despite their criminal activities, he can still respect his suspects, and even like them, for the parts of them that are human.

The essence of Seeker is summed up best in book #4, the Bear Pit, on pages 203-204. Andrew Marvell, poet and trusted friend, wonders: “People didn’t just carry on regardless when Seeker turned up. There was a tendency to silence, a hiatus in movement, before everyone suddenly found reason to be elsewhere. It was not just amongst the guilty that such was the case. Those of blameless life were equally dumbstruck and guilt-ridden at the Captain’s arrival anywhere. Even in the guardrooms of Horse Guards Yard it was the same. Marvell wondered how it made Seeker feel, this power he had to arrest the motions of others, kill dead their conversations. He wondered if the man was ever lonely.

One of my favorite characters in this series is Lady Anne Winter. She has a very strained relationship with Seeker as well yet somehow a bond develops. Whatever she does as a Royalist spy, she is at her best when she is just Lady Anne Winter. She will loyally do what is expected of her as a spy. But when confronted with young people in trouble, especially young women, she does what is right.

I never like to read fight scenes in a book. I skip to the part where the story picks up again. Not so much here. I still do not care for fight scenes, but Maclean’s are brief, to the point, and every movement plays to the characters’ strength. There is not much embellishment with gory details or a flood of adjectives and that is something else I like.

MacLean has delivered. With a Ph.D. in History and specialization in 16th and 17th century Scottish History, she picked a challenging time period to set her series of historical fiction. She does not overwhelm the reader with too many details about the politics of the time. The reader gets just enough to follow the characters and to be comfortable in the story’s time.

Book five is the conclusion of the Seeker series. In the author’s notes and at the book’s ending, however, is a hint that the door is kept open, and I am all for it.

Maclean’s website is here and you can also follow her on Twitter. I look forward to reading her new book: The Bookseller of Inverness.

Highly recommended reading. 

*reposted from DCC

Movie Review: Zodiac

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Zodiac is the name for an officially unidentified serial killer. His target area was Northern California. We know that he killed at least five people in the San Francisco Bay Area in the time period of December 1968 to October 1969. The crime scenes were mostly in rural, urban and suburban settings. I do not know if there are any Zodiac cases in industrial areas.

Two of the attempted victims survived. According to the Zodiac, he killed over 37 people.

There is a lot of information about the cases online so we do not have to summarize them here.

Like most people who read true crime, I was familiar with the name and the general outlines of the cases however, I never delved into them. Zodiac always had a huge digital footprint therefore, this movie from 2007 was not on my radar.

I came across it while scrolling. I saw three actors whom I recognized from the Marvel movies. I thought it would be good to see them in different roles. They did not disappoint.

The movie takes us to the known crime scenes and follows the police investigation. It shows you the difficulties of that time. No computers, no digital archives, no cell phones, etc. It also brings up the issues you run into when government agencies need to collaborate across their lines of jurisdiction.

What I appreciate most is that this movie does not focus on gory details. All murders are horrific. The bulk of the time however, more than 2.5 hours, you are following in detail how the investigation inched forward, where it stopped, how it was picked up, who found which needle in the haystack, and most importantly, we witness how everyone involved in the investigation transforms. The ones who were more cool and collected in the beginning of the movie, slowly unravel. Those with a objective, almost clinical take on the matter become obsessed and lose touch with cherished parts of their reality.

The actor Mark Ruffalo who plays Inspector Dave Toschi, reminded me of Lt. Columbo. His wavy hair, the raincoat, the scratching of the head, the focus on the small details, his calmness, I could not help but see the similarities.

Recommended viewing!

Note:

In October 2021, a cold case investigation team known as the Case Breakers – a group of over forty former police investigators, journalists, and military intelligence officers, claimed to have identified the Zodiac killer. According to them, his name was Gary Francis Poste. He died in August 2018. He was 80 years old.

Poste was a former US Air Force serviceman and allegedly had a violent character. The group said in this article that they came to this identification based on “forensic evidence, photos found in Poste’s own darkroom and on some of the serial killer’s coded notes.”

My first book love

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I love to read but what exactly made me fall in love with reading? Was it a particular character or a location? Was it a book or was it a magazine, a comic, what?

It took me some time but I finally remembered. In elementary school, I had a magazine subscription for Donald Duck. It was a reward for learning how to read faster than they had expected. The school issued magazines were all educational and boring.

One of the many stories in the Dutch version of Donald Duck were the adventures of Douwe Dabbert. The first one that appeared was about a spoiled princess. You can imagine the issues Douwe had to deal with as her mentor and teacher.

What drew me in was not so much her tricks and bluntness. It was the drawings by Piet Wijn. The details in her dress, facial expressions, and the way Wijn used a page. The main action was of course drawn in detail but the background was selectively left less detailed. It fascinated me. In school, I was always told to use the full page, you know, not waste paper.

What clinched the deal for me was Douwe Dabbert’s knapsack. He had inherited it from his grandfather who knew some magic. The knapsack always contained what Douwe would need precisely at that moment. It became a game for me as a child to see if I could guess what was in the knapsack.

As the story evolved over many magazines, of course the spoiled princess changed. Her facial expressions relaxed, she found her courage and even appreciation for the responsibilities of being a King’s heir. She also turned out to be less of an air-headed barbie doll than you would have expected in the beginning.

Reading this adventure made me curious. I wanted to see more of the drawings, the story, the changes in all the characters, and of course, that knapsack. It got to the point where I made one myself from an old walking stick and a scarf. And, I added my abracadabra!

I walked around the house and the apartment building thinking that at any time now, it would magically produce what I needed. Well, all it did was set off alarm bells in my parents who were convinced that I was running away. And explaining that Douwe had a knapsack too and that it always worked for him? That didn’t work for me.

I don’t remember much of the lecture I got about the dangers outside. I do remember that from then on, when the magazine came (always on Fridays) in the mail, I’d run to the mailbox but not before I told my parents (or older siblings) that I was just getting the mail.

I hope that your first book love didn’t get you in too much trouble.

P.S.: the story of the Verwende Princess first appeared in installments in the Donald Duck magazine in the Netherlands. Later, all the installments were released as a comic. Sadly, I don’t have the magazines anymore but, when this comic came out, I bought it.